Over the last number of years, God has really used RTS Charlotte to help train folks headed into campus ministry (or coming from campus ministry). In fact, we have an entire institute designed to do just that: the Institute for Reformed Campus Ministry (IRCM).
The IRCM has allowed us to connect with campus ministries like RUF, CRU, Campus Outreach (and others). Many of those folks head to college ministry, and others to the pastoral ministry.
Cole McLaughlin (class of 2007) is a great example of both. After working with CRU for 15 years, Cole is now Senior Pastor at Peace PCA in Cary, NC.
Cole is the next installment in our Where Are They Now? alumni series. He has some great wisdom to offer below–especially the last paragraph! Here is his interview:
1. What are you currently doing?
I am the Senior Pastor of Peace Church (PCA) in Cary, North Carolina, just outside of Raleigh. Prior to coming to Peace, I was on staff with Cru for 15 years, most recently at Duke University.
2. Why did you originally come to RTS Charlotte?
I came to RTS in my mid-twenties, after about 4 years of campus ministry. Students were asking questions that I didn’t have answers for, and that pushed me to seek more training. I took a course on Christianity and Culture that RTS was offering remotely in the Raleigh area, and I was hooked–from that first class on, I encountered at RTS a theological richness and depth that I had never experienced before.
3. Is there one thing that you learned at RTS that has come back to you as you have ministered to others? A phrase, encouragement or advice?
The late Dr. Frank Kik loved to exhort us to remember that we were called to preach to ‘people, not pews.’ Early on, we usually failed to follow his advice, and Dr. Kik would cry out, right as we preached: ‘I’m bored!’ I still imagine him out there sometimes, pushing me to be clearer and more passionate as I speak. Another thing he’d say is, ‘Don’t be impressed when people take notes on your sermon. That doesn’t mean anything. You should seek to preach so well that they can’t take notes.’ If you ever tried to take notes on one of Dr. Kik’s sermons, you knew what he meant. It was hard to write anything with your heart that engaged–and you couldn’t see through the tears. Another great quote that often comes to mind is Richard Pratt’s: ‘The first step toward heresy is you alone with your Bible!’ That quote alone shows the value of an RTS education.
4. What do you enjoy most about your current ministry?
This is a small one, but significant, over time: I enjoy the privilege of pronouncing the benediction each Sunday–it’s a moment when you see the hunger for grace become visible on people’s faces. Seeing that look reminds me not to give up, that the work of the pastor really does have meaning.
5. What has been a struggle in your ministry?
Eugene Peterson talks about the ‘relentless return of the Sabbath.’ Preaching week after week is grueling work. Most of us can come up with a great ‘stump speech’ or two, but ministering God’s Word to the same people, time after time, is a whole different thing. Most any pastor will tell you that to be able to take a Sunday to just sit and listen to someone else preach is a great gift. I try to give myself that gift as much as possible, to keep from burning out. I know a few guys who preach around 50 times a year. I will never be one of those guys!
6. If you could give any encouragement to a current student in seminary, what would it be?
Be humble. If you aren’t thirty years old yet, you probably haven’t earned the right to be too certain about anything! So listen to your pastors, your professors and your wife. Nothing is worse than an arrogant 27-year-old. Believe me, I know–I used to be one. And everyone will like you more if you are humble, because you look a lot more like Jesus that way.